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Imagine the scene.....you are attempting to build a royal palace for the King of the Britons but progress is very slow. Nick Knowles and his DIY SOS team haven't been born yet and the ROGUE TRADERS duo of Dan "the man" and Matt Allwright can't get their bike to go because the combustion engine hasn't been invented yet and so theres no petrol. Who else does that leave but Marcus Didius Falco, informer and general trouble-shooter to the Emperor. Falco has just had the bath house of his fathers home renovated only to discover that the builders have left something behind...the decomposing body of a former colleague.....whilst the builders themselves have fled to Britain. With his sister needing to keep a low profile and the Emperor making him an offer he cannot afford to refuse, events seem to be cultimating to send him in pursuit. Reluctantly, Falco temporarily uproots his family and, against his better judgements, takes them across the ocean to supervise a building project fraught with mishaps and woefully spiralling over it's Imperial budget. Right from the very beginning, Falco discovers that he is hardly the most popular person on site with every trade having their secret scams to hide and nobody looking favourably on his goverment-sanctioned snooping. Before long, it begins to look as though some of the injuries and deaths on site may or may not have been as accidental as they at first appeared and Falco himself starts to look like a target!! With it's humour sometimes bordering on the farce of the Frankie Howerd comedy series, UP POMPEII, the book takes a much lighter approach to its subject matter than most historical novels. Indeed, the book is almost a satirical look at all builders and anyone who has had the cowboys in to redo their kitchen/ patio/ conservatory will be able to sympathise with what Falco has to endure. As a mystery thriller, it almost works but too often I found the humour a bit of an unnessecary distraction and the plot stretches on a bit longer than is actually comfortable. Though it's humourous approach is quite refreshing, it does get a little tiresome and although I enjoyed this novel, it's not one I would choose to keep once I was done reading. That said, I am intrigued enough to give another of her novels a go as I am sure that, like Pratchett, there are sure to be some entries in this historical series that are better written than others and Falco's "man on the street" approach to the events he recounts is one you cannot help but to warm to even a little bit!! Thankfully I didn't pay for this as someone I know sent it to me on the book-swapping site I am a member of. Certainly now that I'm done, I'll be very tempted to swap it for something I might enjoy a tad more. Widely available on Amazon,Ebay and from all good bookstores, I'm afraid I can only give this half a reccommendation.
It's a close-run thing. Two authors have made a speciality of brilliantly researched and highly atmospheric thrillers set in ancient Rome. Lindsey Davis is currently ahead on points, and the latest Falco thriller, A Body in the Bath House, is quite the most diverting entry in the series yet. Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder series will have to scrabble to maintain this level. The highly impressive sleight-of-hand that Davis is so adept at is just as much in evidence here as in such previous entries in the series as Ode to a Banker: while the sights, sound and smells of ancient Rome are conjured up with a truly pungent verisimilitude, Falco's modern sensibility never jars, and this Philip Marlowe of the ancient world remains a perfect conduit for the reader.